Metra amendment set to aid students

By Timothy Bearden

The Coalition of Chicago Colleges, which consists of various student governments from Chicago schools, met with Metra executives on May 5 to discuss student discounts on its rail system.

Earlier this semester, the CCC submitted an amendment to the Illinois legislature to be attached to a current bill. The coalition hopes to expand the definition of students to encompass college students as well as grade school and high school pupils. Currently, Metra only grants discounts to the latter of the two groups.

Brian Matos, the president of Columbia’s Student Government Association; Kurt Gonska, the president of DePaul University’s SGA and Jarrod Wolf, University of Chicago’s student government leader, met with Philip Pagano, the executive director for Metra, on May 5 after the bill was drafted and sent to be approved by the General Assembly’s Rules Committee.

Matos said the student governments never would have gotten the meeting without the threat of legislation forcing Metra to fund its own program with no state aid, like they were forced to do with the seniors ride for free program.

“We, as college students and as student governments, felt that Metra wasn’t going to listen to us because they hadn’t [in the past],” Matos said. “Up until this meeting there was no real effort on their part to talk to us and work this through.”

Judy Pardonnet, director of Media Relations for Metra, said there was no “change of heart” and the organization has always been open to talking about the issue.

“I think that Metra has always been open to looking at possibilities, but not at Metra’s expense, frankly,” she said. “Metra can’t subsidize the fare.”

According to Gonska and Matos, the subsidies for the program were already in place after the free-rides-for-seniors program was implemented. They said the money that was funded is still there; however, Pardonnet said the money from the subsidy is no longer available.

“[The original subsidy] doesn’t exist anymore,” Pardonnet said. “They’re not going to give us any more money … when we had a reduced fare program, the state of Illinois did provide reimbursement for the 50 percent the seniors did not have to pay. We did get subsidy for that, but we no longer do.”

Matos said each year the General Assembly gives $33 million to each group associated with the RTA. He added that Metra gets the smallest piece of that funding and he doesn’t want to hurt their “bottom-line.”

“We are willing to work collectively with Metra and the state to fund the program,” Matos said.

Matos also said the Metra discount will be primarily for 10-ride passes. He reasoned because one-ride passes wouldn’t be enough for students who come to school two to four times a week and monthly passes wouldn’t be economical because they start the first day of the month and end the last day of the month.

“A 10-ride pass gives the students more flexibility,” Matos said.

Gonska met with the legislature on May 7 to adjust the current bill to ask the state for funding. The original language of the bill, according to Matos, would have required Metra to take the funding hit, not the state.

“Metra gets money from the state to provide discounts to seniors, people with disabilities, high school students and grade school students,” Gonska said. “So basically what we’re asking the state to do is broaden the definition to reach college students as well.”

According to Gonska, the proposed bill is currently being rewritten to ask the state for funding.

The bill, once it’s finished, will go back to the Rules Committee to be voted on to be attached to House Speaker Michael Madigan’s amendment to the Illinois Vehicle Code, House Bill 2144.